Celebrations to Recognize Holi

The festival of Holi is known as the festival of color. It contains many exuberant celebrations and rituals that are indicative of the joyous jubilation being honored because Prahlada was saved from the fire that his sister, Holika, carried him into – upon their father’s order. It is believed that Lord Vishnu protected Prahlada and thus ceremonious dance, food, and music are enjoyed during this celebration to praise the Lord Vishnu and Prahlada’s salvation from the fire. Let’s look at some other ways that Hindus celebrate Holi.

The most prevalent celebratory staple in a Holi festival is both the bonfire and the throwing of colored powder and/or perfumes at one another. The second most prevalent description of a traditional Holi festival would be best described as a wild celebration whereby the normally strict gaps between gender, status, and class are lowered so that all Hindus can join in the celebration equally. Holi celebrations traditionally last about 2 days, however in Mathura the Holi festival lasts a full 16 days.

The bonfire is lit around midnight to coincide with the rising moon. Men spend many days prior to the festival collecting enough wood to be used in the bonfire. The custom of smearing oneself, and each other, with colored powder and perfumes (or scented water) is likely why the festival has been dubbed the “Festival of Colors.”

The celebration is known for an excess of dance, music, and food to regale the arrival of spring in full glory. The dancing and singing are said to represent and symbolize the victory of good (Prahlada) over evil (Holi and their father Hiranyakashipu). One cannot underscore the exuberance and enthusiasm with which the rejoicers dance around the bonfire in celebration of Holi.

In Gorakhpur, the morning of Holi is likened to a New Year’s celebration as it is coincides with the last day of the Hindu calendar month Phalgun, which is considered the end of the Hindu year. The day is spent visiting every house, independent of class, singing Holi songs and showing gratitude for one another by smearing colored powders. It is largely considered the most colorful, joyful, and happiest day of the year – a day where brotherhood is promoted amongst all people.

In Kumaon the Holi festival is largely a festival of song. And as such there are even specific times for each song to be sung. Peelu, Bhimpalasi, and Sarang ragas are sung at noon, while Kalyan, Shyamkalyan, and Yaman songs are to be sung in the evening.

In Bihar, the ceremony is a loud and joyous event where grains, wood, leaves, and dung are all used in the bonfire. The elder of the community lights the bonfire and smears participants with color to greet them as they join in the festival activities. On the next day the festival continues in a spirit of abandon and frolic. Liquor is imbibed in copious amounts during the Holi festival in Bihar.

The Hindus recognize many different ways to celebrate the coming of spring with rejoicing in the traditions of the Holi story of the old Hindu religion. It is a time for rejoicing and celebrating with a fervent passion for life and salvation.

History of Holi

The ancient Indian festival of color known as Holika, or Holi, is primarily celebrated in India and Nepal, as well as in other regions around the globe. As an increase of tourism in recent years occurs during the festival of color, it has become exceedingly popular and important to regions that are known to have a direct connection to Barsana, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, Mathura and Lord Krishna.

There is a long-held belief of the Hindu religion that Hiranyakashipu was a demon of the worst kind – the greatest king of all demons and had been granted a boon by Brahma which made it near impossible to kill him. He grew more demonic and demanded that all people worship him and cease worshipping the Gods. His own son was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and this angered Hiranyakashipu such that he was determined to kill him. But alas his son was untouchable. After several failed attempts to kill his son, he finally ordered Prahlada to sit in his sister’s lap, Holika. His sister held a boon that kept her from being harmed by fire. Their father shackled them in the chair and started a huge fire. Prahlada prayed to Lord Vishnu to protect him. To everyone’s amazement Holika burnt to death while Prahlada was spared. Thus the burning of Holika and Prahlada’s salvation is celebrated as Holi. In some areas the festival is celebrated for many days – up to 16 days in Mathura – as an honor and remembrance of Krishna’s divine love of Radha.

The festival of Holi holds many purposes to the Hindus. It is a festival to scoot out winter and welcome spring’s lush harvests and fertile land. As a festival it serves to welcome spring fervently as the new season full of joy and bright colors. The festival itself is exhilarating with wild celebrations including bonfires and the throwing of colored powder at one another. The bonfires represent remembrance of Prahlada’s escape from the fire that his sister, Holika carried him into.

The color festivities last for about five days total and end on Panchami, which is known as the fifth day of the full moon. The origin of the current day Holi festival has been traced back to ancient Bengal. Interestingly the Holi festival lowers the strict gaps that normally exist between ‘classes’ in Hindu religion. Rich, poor, women, and men all rejoice and celebrate together – as such no polite behavior is mandated either and the entire celebration is a cause for much joy and excitement amongst all Hindus.

Ceremonies of Mahashivratri

The Hindu festival Mahashivratri is an extremely paschal and ritualistic event. The day begins with a cleansing bathe in holy water, ideally in the Ganga or some other source of holy water. After bathing, clean clothes are adorned and the prayers begin. Women are to either pray for their husbands and sons or, if unmarried, to pray to find a man as good as Shiva. Lord Shiva is considered the example of an exemplary husband. There are chants hailing Shiva and then the linga are circled between three and seven times. After the ritualistic circling, either water or milk is poured onto the Shivalinga.

The Hindu celebration occurs on the 14th day of the Phalgun Hindu calendar, which would correspond to either February or March in the English calendar. The moon must be a new moon as Mahashivratri stands for “the great night of Shiva” and recognizes the long dark night.

There are six ceremonial items that must be incorporated into any Mahashivratri celebration. They are:

1)   Bathing the Shivalinga with either water, honey or milk that contains either Wood apple or beal leaves = represents purification of the soul

2)   Vermilion paste is then applied to the Shivalinga after the bathing = represents virtue

3)   Fruit offerings = represents gratification of desires and a prayer for longevity

4)   Incense burning = represents wealth

5)   Lighting of the lamp = represents knowledge

6)   Betel leaves = represents being pleased or happy with one’s worldly pleasures

As part of the worship ritual, three lines of ash are applied to one’s forehead; which are believed to represent purity, penance, and spiritual knowledge. These three lines are also representative of the three eyes of Shiva.

It is customary to wear a rudraksha seed rosary during the worship ceremony. The rudraksha tree is said to have been created by Lord Shiva’s tears, and as such is considered a sacred tree.

There are festivals all over India to celebrate Mahashivratri. Many of them incorporate fairs and the worshipping of other religious deities, such as the Mandi festival which celebrates over 200 deities throughout the fair. There is also the Sahasrakalasabishekam which is a 10 day-long festival celebrating Kroshta Muni’s and Lord Parasurama’s ritualistic bathing of the deity, Shiva, with a thousand pots of holy water.

There are many other mantras and festivals of differing focuses throughout India, such as the mantra in the Vedas or the Mahasivarathri Procession; which is a grand procession to the temple that is joined throughout the processional journey by several other mini processions. It is considered by many to be the most dramatic and sensational celebratory display of color, sound, pageantry and fireworks – a celebration befitting the irreverent Lord Shiva for being protector of the world.

History of Mahashivratri

Mahashivratri is a Hindu festival celebration that in essence means “the great night of Shiva”, referring to the all-night fasting, meditation and worship that is customarily observed. There are many tales to describe how Mahashivratri first came to be; however, one of the most popular versions is where a pot of poison capable of destroying the whole world emerged from the ocean and Shiva drank it to protect and save the world. But he did not swallow it; to protect the world, which supposedly exists in Shiva’s stomach, he held it in his throat. Therefore, his neck turned blue due to the poison. Afterwards, he went off to meditate in the Himalayas. But prior to his departure, he was advised to stay awake all night after swallowing the poison, and thus the gods played music and danced for him all night long to help keep him awake.

Another tale tells of a man gathering firewood in the forest who, upon hearing the ferocious roar of a tiger, climbed a tree to flee and then stayed awake all night to avoid falling out of the tree. To keep awake, he threw bael leaves from the tree one by one, all night long. Upon daybreak he saw Lord Shiva at the base of the tree instead of a tiger and was thankful to him for keeping him safe all night. Lord Shiva was pleased to see the pile of bael leaves at the base of the tree and perceived it to be an offering from the man.

Similarly there is a story of a man who was returning home from a day of hunting and climbed a tree to rest. While he slept droplets of dew dripped from his body and down the tree, thus producing an offering to Lord Shiva along with the bael leaves that fell from the tree that night, forming a ritualistic offering on the holiest of nights – the night of Sivaratri. This version potentially explains the all night worship that follows an all-day fasting, as the hunter worried all night about his wife and children who were starving and waited for their return with the game of birds he had with him from his hunting quest.

The Mahashivratri celebration is observed on the 13th night of the Phalgun month of a Hindu calendar, when there is a new moon (i.e., a moonless night). For it is believed that the Lord Shiva told Parvati that this was his favorite day of the year and that she had shared this news with her friends, who in turn shared it with the world.